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Court of Appeals upholds Amundson conviction

WORTHINGTON -- More than four years after being sentenced for first- and fifth-degree controlled substance crimes, Scott Allen Amundson, 47, of Worthington, may be closer to actually serving jail time for the crimes for which he was convicted.

Earlier this week, the Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed itself and issued an opinion upholding the 2004 convictions.

In September 2003, Amundson was charged with attempt to manufacture methamphetamine and possession of meth. Both charges were enhanced due to Amundson's possession of firearms in proximity to the drugs. Using a Lothenbach procedure in 2004, he waived his right to a jury trial with the intention of appealing. He was convicted and sentenced to 36 months in prison, which was stayed pending the results of the appeal.

Amundson had reserved the right to appeal the district court's order denying his motion to suppress evidence seized during the execution of a night time search warrant.

While investigating a car crash in September 2003, authorities went to Amundson's residence in search of an injured motorist believed to have been dropped off there. The door was locked, but authorities forced the door open, thinking the victim may be inside and incapacitated.

Inside, they saw several guns and ammunition, including a loaded shotgun with the safety disengaged. A week later, they went to his home to serve an order for protection. Amundson was not there, but a woman answered the door and authorities noted the presence of a rifle leaning up against the wall inside the house.

Within days, authorities were again at his house, this time with a no-knock evening search warrant, looking to arrest Amundson for terroristic threat and felony harassment. The no-knock warrant had been issued because of the recent encounters with loaded guns at his residence, making the threat to officer safety very real.

Inside the house, officers found evidence of a meth lab, resulting in the charges and conviction. Amundson appealed on the basis the no-knock warrant was unjustified because knowledge of the firearms was gotten when authorities entered his house without a warrant to search for an injured person, so the evidence seized during the search should be suppressed.

The original appellate court decision was divided, with one judge supporting the validity of a no-knock warrant, while the other two found the provisions of the search to be invalid. The Supreme Court granted Amundson's petition for further review.

In the new opinion, the court concluded the emergency-aid justification of providing medical assistance applied to the forced entry, and the officer's resulting knowledge of the presence of guns at the residence could be considered in issuing the search warrant. The court also concluded the search warrant was valid.

The last issue is whether the sentence was imposed in violation of Amundson's Sixth Amendment rights.

The district court based the 36-month sentence on a mandatory minimum provided in the firearms enhancement statute, based on its own findings. But that sentencing occurred after the Supreme Court released its decision recognizing the right to a jury determination on enhancing factors.

The opinion states Amundson is entitled to a jury determination of facts that would increase his sentence.

"Therefore, Amundson's sentence is reversed and remanded for further proceedings," the opinion concludes.

Amundson has not served jail time over the controlled substance charges in question, but has since been convicted of receiving stolen property, a separate fifth-degree controlled substance charge and driving after revocation. He is currently out of prison and on probation.